I see his face, sometimes, flashing across Facebook in the “people you may know.” I even clicked on it, once. He’s doing well for himself, it seems. Successful. About a dozen pictures of him with his arm around a smiling girl. And I wonder. . .
I wonder if those girls know about the time that he assaulted another girl. That arm that is laid so companionably around their shoulders was used to force that girl onto his bed. That those perfectly manicured hands alternated between trying to push her pants down and forcing their way between her thighs. I wonder if they know about that other smile he gets, the one where he laughs while he rubs his penis against her lips, trying to force it through them. I wonder if they’d still smile if they did.
I wonder if they’d even believe me.
I know people didn’t then. Or, if they believed me, they thought it was my fault. I don’t say this from conjecture, but from fact.
One person told me it was because of they way I was dressed. I’d been proud of myself back then, for losing weight. Was feeling good about myself. So I was wearing a cap-sleeved tight shirt with Chinese characters. And khaki cargo pants. I’ve got curves. They showed. They showed through the t-shirt and cargo pants. So it was my fault.
Another person told me that I had a “reputation.” That people talked about me. That I flirted. So obviously I had led him on.
My therapist told me that I shouldn’t tell. That if I did, people would drag out everything about me. That if I had anything to hide, it would all be in the open and he would likely get a slap on the wrist. He wasn’t wrong. The man in question was an athlete, something akin to royalty at my high school while I. . . well, I was outspoken, had some bad habits. Made some bad choices.
So I didn’t say anything.
But I am now. I’m going to follow the lead of the incredibly brave people who have stepped forward. I’ve read the responses, God help me, and there’s so much ignorance out there. Brock Turner is appealing his court case because the word “dumpster” put a negative light on him forcibly penetrating an unconscious woman. George Takai is somehow still “Uncle George.” And so on. And so on. And so I’m going to say this:
There are a dozen or more reasons that women stay quiet about assault. Sometimes for decades. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It means they are scared. It means they want to put it behind them. It means they don’t feel like they would be heard. But it does NOT mean it didn’t happen.
If a woman is not saying anything, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had that experience. It also doesn’t mean she is under any obligation to anyone.
To those shouting about how people shouldn’t be tried by a court of public opinion, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK THE WOMEN HAVE BEEN GOING THROUGH? Read the story above, is that not exactly what happened to me? Statute of limitations in Michigan is 10 years. Even when there is no statute, you have to have proof. Which means in many cases, means it is one person’s word against another. In other words, court of popular opinion. I’m not advocating for injustice on in either case, but the pendulum has to swing for change to be made.
To the men who suddenly don’t know how to treat women without being accused of assault, who are afraid: here’s a simple primer. DO NOT put your hands, penis, mouth or any part of your body against a person without their consent. If you trip and bump into someone, boob graze, or something similar, apologize and be more careful next time. If a woman says “no,” to any request of a personal nature, respect that. Do not make rape jokes. Ever. Do not comment on a woman’s body unless you have asked to do so. Do not make sexual jokes around a woman unless you have asked if it is okay. Some people are okay with it. Some people are not. Trust me, you’ll be fine.
To the man who posted that he was “raped on his timeline by a culture of victimization,” or anyone who has expressed similar sentiments. Stop. Just stop. You either don’t know the effects that sexual assault can have one someone, or you don’t care. In either case, just shut up.
To the men who are worried about how they can help, just ask. Be prepared for some backlash, hurt people do that sometimes. But help anyway. Listen to women. Teach your sons about consent. Be mindful of your words and the words of your friends. Volunteer.
To the women who have experienced assault: you have value. You have worth. You are brave. You are strong. And I see you.